November 30, 2000

Indian confidence level on a high

Shantha Rangaswamy

Amidst speculation in the local press that the top four teams making the semi-final grade would be Australia, New Zealand, England and possibly South Africa, the Indian team brushed it aside with contempt by registering an emphatic victory against South Africa. The way the Indian team went about the task warmed many a Indian heart.

The Hagley Park pitch is different from the Lincoln University pitch. The pitch where the match was played on today had lesser bounce and was more akin to the type the Indians are used to. The day was bright and sunny and the wind factor, which can upset many calculations, was virtually absent. It was an ideal toss to win and bat on as the Indian team would have loved to have runs against their names. This was not to be as the Indian skipper chose to field on winning the toss.

The fact that it is the first match of the competition for them and the need to have a feel of the pitch obviously dictated the decision to field first. The only disadvantage with this was that some of their key batsmen did not get to bat during the course of the day.

The under rated Indian pace attack showed it had teeth when Renu Margaret claimed two quick wickets, the first of which was on account of a stunning catch at slip by Anjum Chopra. With Smitha Harikrishna, the other pacer, constantly beating the bat with her away swingers, the South African batsmen were tied down.

The introduction of Purnima Rau, the offspinner, saw the bowlers virtually spinning a web on the batsmen from which they could never extricate themselves. With most of the Indians bowling to a length, it became increasingly difficult for the South Africans to score runs and at one stage they were a pathetic 68 for 8.

The ninth wicket pair of skipper Kim Price and medium pacer Yulandi Van Der Merwe gave the South African score respectability as at one time it appeared that they would not cross the 100 figure. But some better handling of the bowlers towards the end would have made run getting that much more difficult.

Deepa Kularni, the left arm spinner, had conceded just 5 runs in the 5 overs she sent down but she was never reintroduced into the attack when the two South African batsmen were going for the big hits.

With just 129 runs to chase, the target was always within India's reach. The opening pair of Anju Jain and Anjum Chopra added 23 runs for the first wicket before the latter was bowled by Van der Merwe, trying to cut a ball that kept low. For an opener, Chopra has too much of a tendency to play square of the wicket in the initial overs which may land her in trouble against a better bowling attack.

The exit of Chopra brought Mithali Raj to the middle. Watching her bat was an exquisite experience as in a game where even veterans get inhibited in their strokeplay, she was like a whiff of fresh air. Making her bow in the World Cup, she displayed a temperament which even veterans would have been proud of. Her precision timing and placement left the South African bowlers and fielders frustrated.

Mithali Raj's innings was an authoritative one and it seemed like she let her bat announce to the cricketing world that she has arrived and in what a fashion! The Indian confidence level is definitely high after this victory and they are fully aware that they are up against formidable opposition ahead of them.